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SF@MIA: Hand wins for first time as starter since '11

In the midst of a rocky stretch, Dallas Keuchel will get the ball for the Astros as they open a weekend series against the Marlins -- the first game of a 10-game homestand -- at Minute Maid Park on Friday night.

"When you pitch as well as he was pitching during that stretch in which he was unbelievable, throughout the course of the 33-some-odd starts, you're going to have some starts when you're not going to have your best stuff, and you're going to have some games in which you give it up," Houston manager Bo Porter said.

After going 8-3 with a 2.38 ERA and two complete games in his first 13 starts (11 quality starts) while making a push for the All-Star Game, the southpaw is 2-3 with a 5.02 ERA in his last six starts, only one of which has been quality.

"I look at the full body of work, and he's been arguably our best pitcher, and he'll continue to pitch well in the back half of the season," Porter said.

The Astros, who will try to recover from a lost series against the A's where they were outscored 24-11 in three games, will face Marlins left-hander Brad Hand.

Hand is coming off his first win of 2014, a seven-inning, two-run, four-strikeout effort against the Giants on Sunday. And the only time Hand has taken the mound against the Astros, he put up even better numbers -- the lefty held them to only two hits in seven shutout innings on July 7, 2011, for his first Major League win.

Hand (1-2, 4.86 ERA) pitched most of the first few months of the season out of the bullpen, but he has made four straight starts for the Marlins since returning from the disabled list at the beginning of July.

How long Hand remains a starter will be a matter of health and consistency. He spent time on the DL with an ankle injury in June. But since working himself back into game shape, Hand has been able to pitch around a steady routine.

"I was in the bullpen, not throwing very often," Hand said. "It's a role I had never been in. I had always been a starter. I got back into my routine and what I'm comfortable doing, throwing every fifth day with my [bullpen sessions] in between. I really got a chance to kind of sharpen everything back up."

Astros: Carter on a tear
After going 1-for-4 with a solo home run in Thursday's game against the A's, Astros designated hitter Chris Carter is hitting .323 (20-for-62) with six doubles, seven home runs and 15 RBIs in his last 16 games.

His batting average has risen to .213 from .181 during that span, and he leads the American League in OPS and homers this month, moving ahead of the Angels' Mike Trout.

"He's just that much shorter to the ball," Porter said. "We've said this all along: This guy can get hot with the best of them, and when he's hot, he can carry a ballclub. He's on one of those hot streaks right now, and he's swinging the bat well, and we're going to try to ride it as long as we possibly can."

Carter's power surge has come at a good time for the Astros, since outfielder Dexter Fowler has been on the DL for a month and George Springer joined him on Wednesday. With his home run on Thursday, Carter is now tied with Springer for the team lead in homers with 20.

Marlins: Weighing designated hitter options
Traveling to Houston means the Marlins will be using a designated hitter for the Interleague series at Minute Maid Park.

Manager Mike Redmond is in the process of considering his options. With lefty Keuchel on the mound Friday, there are right-handed-hitting candidates like Jeff Baker. But Baker may get the start at first base for lefty-hitting Garrett Jones.

Or it could be Giancarlo Stanton acting as the DH at any point this weekend. The right fielder, Redmond admitted, could use "a day off his feet." Plus, it wouldn't be foreign territory for the slugger, who was the National League's DH in the All-Star Game.

Worth noting
• Porter admitted Thursday he was concerned about the sore right hamstring of starting shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, who was lifted in the seventh inning of Wednesday night's 9-7 loss to the A's to rest the leg.

Gonzalez was in the lineup Thursday out of necessity, considering the Astros' mounting injury problems. He went 0-for-2, while turning an athletic double play.

• The Marlins were awarded the first pick in Competitive Balance Round A of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft after winning Wednesday's Competitive Balance Lottery. Competitive Balance Round A is held immediately after the Draft's first round.

• Since coming back from the All-Star break, Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has raised his average 13 points to .232. He's 7-for-18 with three RBIs, two doubles and a homer in five games. One of his hits -- an RBI single in the ninth off Braves closer Craig Kimbrel -- drove in the Marlins' game-winning run on Thursday night.

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